'May' describes the magical journey of adolescence against the background of Holland’s flowery dunescapes. In strokes of wonder-filled impressions a stunningly unspoiled girl, May, explores the promise of springtime and the intense spiritual life of youth. However, the cycle of life always moves on, and as May matures and returns to earth, she finds it readying for summer. When Herman Gorter published 'Mei' (May) in 1889, this spontaneous and vibrant epic poem was immediately recognized by his peers as a landmark work for Dutch literature. 'Mei' was perhaps an inevitable product of the artistically revolutionary and highly lucid spirit in The Netherlands of the 1880s. While Gorter’s contemporary, Vincent Van Gogh, had just completed the groundbreaking Sunflowers series of paintings, Gorter succeeded with Mei to compose his own artistic monument of colourful power and innovation.
Herman Gorter (1864-1927) Gorter was born into a simple family in Wormerveer, a rural town in the northwestern Netherlands. His father, a pastor, died when he was only six years old. Still, Gorter received a good education, studied classical languages in Amsterdam and became a teacher at a Gymnasium. In 1889, after three years of work on his epic poem “Mei” (“May”), Gorter finally could proclaim “the thing is done”. “Mei” was published in three parts in the contemporary periodical De Nieuwe Gids (“The New Guide”), a retrospection of Gorter’s youth through nature, love, idealism, disillusion and melancholic reflection. Spontaneous and full of vibrant imagery, “Mei” quickly became a landmark for the 1880 literary movement in The Netherlands, that attempted to reclaim aesthetics for the art (the “Tachtigers”). In 1890, Gorter married the girl that stood model for “Mei”. That same year his “Verzen” was published, celebrating his spiritual and sensual experiences of these emotionally rich years. Gorter would gradually distance himself from the “Tachtigers” movement. He became increasingly politically engaged, and turned to express his Marxist ideals through his work. The metaphysical longing expressed in Book 2 of “Mei” turned out to be a prelude to his more utopian work of this time, such as Pan (1916). Like “Mei”, Gorter eventually became disillusioned about the attainability of his ideals and had to deal with recurring depressions. Love remained a key theme in Gorter’s work until his death.